The Forgotten Cemetery: excavations at Ranelagh, Co. Roscommon


In the 4th century AD, a modest defended farmstead was established close to what is now Roscommon, in the Irish county of the same name, and over the next 1,000 years it evolved into a much more complex and higher-status settlement, accompanied by an equally enduring cemetery. Both were uncovered by archaeologists between 2015 and 2016, and their findings, together with post-excavation analysis, are presented engagingly and comprehensively in The Forgotten Cemetery.

The site’s longevity, and the richly diverse array of artefacts and environmental evidence that it has produced, allows the book to explore a broad sweep of time. Initial chapters are arranged chronologically, and then thematically, drawing together archaeological, bioarchaeological, and historical information. Accompanied by plentiful site plans and colour photographs, these offer detailed insights into domestic and dress items; craft production and the making and maintenance of tools and weapons; and hints of the site’s growing status in the form of large-scale beef consumption and the rise of prestige industries such as fine metalworking and possibly brewing.

Analysis of charcoal, pollen, and carbonised plant remains allow us to reimagine the wider landscape in which the settlement stood and, thanks to an in-depth exploration of the site’s extensive multi generational cemetery, we can also encounter the people who inhabited it. Some 557 articulated burials representing adults, children, and babies were excavated during the course of the project, as well as almost 900 deposits of disarticulated bone. They have opened vivid windows into demographics, diet, and diseases; burial practices; and injuries caused by accident and interpersonal violence. This last category includes an interesting discussion of evidence for scalping, set against the context of the Irish Sagas – an interdisciplinary approach that runs throughout this impressive report.

While each chapter is steeped in scientific detail, the site’s human story is never lost. ‘Everyone, from the tiniest baby to the oldest adult, has an important story to share; in this volume we have aimed to give voices back to the people buried in the cemetery at Ranelagh,’ the authors write. They have certainly succeeded.

Shane Delaney and Eileen Murphy
Transport Infrastructure Ireland, €25
ISBN 978-1911633341